The day could not have been more perfect.
A chilly morning quickly gave way to brilliant sunshine and temperatures that mocked the date on the calendar. While large parts of country were bundled up while prepping for their Thanksgiving Day festivities, the Rice Football team's final practice zipped along in near perfect conditions.
But before the team could disburse to friends and families for feasts of their own in advance of an early departure on Friday to travel west for the season finale against the Stanford Cardinal, the Owls had one final piece of business.
SENIORS' LAST PRACTICE PHOTO GALLERIES
With the practice script completed, head coach David Bailiff gathered the Owls together for a few final words and then the seniors on the team broke away to take one last walk around the turf at Rice Stadium. Up the sideline they had called home for so many Saturdays (and a few Thursdays and Fridays as well), around the south end zone and past the entrance generations of other Owls had used to enter the field, and then down the east sideline toward their new home in the Brian Patterson Center, and then to their teammates were waiting for them in a reception line in the north end zone.
The team then joined again together to begin the final act in a closing ritual that Bailiff had brought with him from his days at Texas State.
As has each class of seniors over the past 10 years, each player selected four team members or staff to carry them from the field to the north end zone, symbolically ending their time as a player on their historic venue's playing surface.
The strategy is as varied as the individuals who make up the team. Some select members of their position group, others select
roommates and other friends, others can be more eclectic.
The slam dunk winner for best explanation for his selections over the past decade was offensive guard Davon Allen, a four-year letterman from 2008-11 (left). When he first arrived on campus, he had great difficulty in completing the summer conditioning workouts, so he called out two trainers in addition to two teammates for his transportation, explaining "they had to carry me off the field my first day here, so they might as well carry me off on the last day."
The 2016 Owls did not have anything as colorful among their selected lineups.
But in the midst of the laughs and camaraderie that was evident as the tradition was fulfilled, that merriment masked an underlying realization that a cherished and dominant part of their lives had drawn to a close.
"Every year you see players who you would never guess would show emotion getting choked up because the reality really sets in," Bailiff said. "You know it's going to happen, but it's always a powerful moment when a player comes to the end of the line to shake your hand and you see tears in their eyes."
After 10 years, it has become a shared experience for a generation of Owls and one that younger players can expect to take part in down the road.